8 November 2012

Namibia: Striking Teachers Soften Their Stance

Teachers in the Khomas Region who sparked the nationwide strike that has paralysed the education sector, yesterday hinted they are willing to go back to teaching, provided government shows them a draft of the salary offer.

Striking teachers say they are cognisant of the fact that the education of Namibian children is at stake and they are willing to return to their classrooms, provided negotiators brief them on the progress they have made so far.

Teachers claim that bargaining agents in the Namibia National Teachers Union (Nantu) and government negotiators have refused to brief them apart from making occasional vague pronouncements that 'progress' is being made.

Simataa Silume, one of the teachers' representatives said "this scenario is tantamount to a grievous breach of the basic principle of collective bargaining where the masses should be informed of the negotiation process - through feedback - to avoid unnecessary anxiety."

"The teachers' stance is that they will continue to strike until they are listened to, whoever is negotiating on our behalf didn't go to represent the masses. The masses want a 40 percent increment. We remain adamant that our voices should be heard," said Silume.

Regarding the exams that are due to start on Friday, teachers say they are aware of the consequences but they cannot always put other people's interests ahead of their own.

Paavo Shapata, another teacher said: "We want someone to talk to us and see what is on the table. Once we know what we are being offered and are satisfied then we can go back to class. We know our responsibilities as teachers and we also know the kids are writing exams. We are willing to see what is being offered and return to class. Why is the government talking to the media when they know where we are gathered?" Shapata asked.

Silume chipped in saying: "We have obligations and rights. People are putting their rights before our own rights. We are entitled to our own rights."

Meanwhile, over 200 teachers from various schools in the Kavango Region yesterday held a peaceful demonstration in Rundu where they vowed to abandon their classrooms if the nationwide demands by teachers for a salary increase are not met.

The demonstrators joined a group of hardliners in the Khomas Region who initiated the strike and influenced other teachers in Rehoboth, Walvis Bay, as well as other localities in the Oshana, Omusati, Omaheke, and Otjozondjupa regions and beyond demanding salary adjustments.

Today, the teachers' strike in the Khomas Region enters its ninth day. Teachers in the Kavango Region are on what they term a 'mini-strike' or a 'go slow' that requires them to go to their respective schools without giving lessons.

One of the teachers, who chose to speak on condition of anonymity, said the morale among teachers has hit a record low, and forcing them to go back to teaching will not benefit the learners in any way.

"At the moment, we only go to school because police threatened to arrest us if we do not go to school. We have also set up an interim committee, because the Nantu regional leadership does not want to spearhead the strike. This committee has been given the mandate to do that by the teachers," he said.

Defiant teachers had initially made it clear that national leaders should address the teachers' concerns and demands in order to find an amicable solution.

"If the proposed demands are not met by Wednesday [November 07], bear with us teachers that we will be ready for unspecified and meaningful action," said one of the teachers who marched to the Kavango Regional Council to hand over a petition to Governor Maurus Nekaro, in which they stated their concerns and envisaged future actions.

"We fully understand the verdict passed by the court, thus we have resorted to a peaceful demonstration after normal working hours. The demonstration is meant to forge solidarity and unity within the teaching profession. However, our peaceful demonstration must not be politicised in any way," they said this week.

The Deputy Minister of Information and Communication Technology, Stanley Simaata, on Tuesday announced that negotiations are likely to conclude by the end of this week or next week at the latest. Simaata also reminded aggrieved teachers that Namibia is a democratic state that is governed by the rule of law.

"As such, employers, employees and of course ordinary Namibian citizens are obliged to abide by court rulings. Continued defiance of the court ruling has the potential to yield undesirable consequences. The rule of law is sacrosanct and as such must be respected at all times," Simaata told a media briefing on Tuesday.

"It is high time that teachers in Kavango realise the importance of the strike because government themselves are not certain when the negotiations will be finalised. Last week they told us negotiations will be concluded by Wednesday and yesterday they told us it will be done by this week or next week," said president of the Teachers Union of Namibia (TUN), Mahongora Kavihuha.

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